Tuesday, June 17, 2008

The highs and lows of Sierra Leone

Craziest week of my life

So crazy that I can't do it justice in blog form.

Climbed a mountain - Mt. Bintumani, at a shade under 2000 metres, is the highest point in Sierra Leone. Camped over night without gear in a cold, windy rain storm under a partially enclosed shelter. Screwed up my knees on the way down, hobbled back to the base camp with the aid of a stick. The bruises are only now rising to the surface. Wanted to give up, but didn't. Proved something small to myself about perseverance.

Got a personal tour of Sierra Leone's parliament from the minister of health - a former boss of my friend Dr. Tom, while working in an emergency room in a hospital in the UK. The two doctors were reunited in Freetown and I got to tag along. Also got to see the minister's personal surgery, a project he runs to aid local people. It was a totally non-sterile environment, just a bed and a standing screen. A woman with an IV in her arm was resting on a couch in the waiting room.

Attended a meeting with UNICEF - again following Dr. Tom, who was trying to get funding for an emergency feeding program for malnourished children in Kambia that he had restarted after MSF had pulled out of the country. All signs point to help in the form of formula going to those children in desperate need.

Attended a lovely party with friends that included pizza and wine, guitars and singing. Fun!

Got punched in the face in a robbery while being driven home from the party. A man opened the driver's side door of our moving vehicle and demanded her cell phone and bag. My friend stopped the car and I got out ran to the man and got clocked in the face. She managed to close her door, but he was still able to grab a bag from inside the car before running away. We got police to look for him, including an officer with a massive automatic rifle, to no avail. The man then proceeded to call all the women listed in my friend's phone and attempted to lure them out to a bar. Luckily, no one listened. All the people in her phone had to be contacted after midnight and told what had happened. Spent a late night with upset friends.

Spent the next day at the police station filing a report and giving statements. Saw a young man, not 18, shirtless, handcuffed to a bar above his head, hyperventilating, sweating profusely, being ridiculed by the officers. "We have riot police here. You are a riot civilian." Ha, ha.
The officer who took my statement didn't believe that I was telling the truth because I didn't have a visible mark on my face from the punch. I have a feeling the man will not be caught, nor will the police leave their station to look for him.

Climate Change

It feels a bit like the climate is changing in Freetown and I don't mean the arrival of rainy season. Food and gas prices continue to rise, jobs continue to be scarce and an estimated one million restless youth in the country have no better prospects now then at the end of the war.

We keep getting a weird feeling about the potential for violence during the upcoming local council elections; politically motivated organized violence utilizing networks formed during the war.

Are desperate times creating these acts of desperation? Will someone with a little money destabilize the country in an attempt to grab, or hold onto, power? Only time will tell.

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